Oh World, what an awful moment. You hear people say it don’t you? I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. God it is more than that though. I don’t just want the ground to open up, I just want to not exist anymore World. “Joe!” I say, and Travis spins around, but Joe has gone. Travis looks back at me.
“Don’t worry about it,” he shrugs at me. “You can do what you want.”
I have to go after him. This is all wrong. I pull away from the wall, and push past Travis, and the journey to the kitchen seems unbearably long and complicated, as people, so many people, get in my way, and I have to push and shove and squeeze through them, just to get to Joe. He is in the kitchen, leaning against the cupboards next to Marianne. There is no sign of Josh or Ryan. I open my mouth to say something to him, but before I get the chance, he lets out this angry noise and launches himself at me. Or so it seems. But it is Travis he is after. Travis has followed me, god knows why, and I have to move out of Joe’s way, as he goes for him.
Joe crashes into his brother, and then they are both on the floor, scrambling and tussling, while everyone who is in the kitchen just moves back dumbly, watching them. I shout at Joe to stop it, and sort of dance around the edge of them, trying in vain to grab at Joe, and pull him away. I am shocked by the viciousness that spirals and spins on the floor before me. They both look possessed. I have never seen Joe like this before. I assume he must be completely wasted to do this. I try again to separate them, calling Joe’s name and snatching at his clothes. “Watch out,” someone warns me, and true enough, I am going to get kicked or punched in a minute if I am not careful. That is when I feel a light touch on the top of my arm, and I look over my shoulder to see Leon, just behind me.
“Let them get on with it,” he tells me. I look at my arm, and he drops his hand, and folds his arms across his muscular chest. I watch his eyes flick back to his brothers, punching the hell out of each other on the floor. As usual, his face portrays no emotion whatsoever, and yet his eyes are alive. I shake my head. I feel disgusted with all of them.
“Fine!” I shout, and storm out, away from them all. I find myself out in the front garden, and suddenly I am throwing up into the flowerbeds. As my vegetable stir-fry makes an unwelcome reappearance, I am hoping miserably that Fiona had not planted these flowers herself. I hope they were here already. Anyway, they are ruined now. Just like everything else. I let my backside find the doorstep and sit down heavily. I wonder where Marianne is, as I drop my aching head into my hands, and close my eyes to the carnage that is all around me. I still need the toilet, and I know I am drunk and probably overreacting, but I really don’t think I have ever felt so utterly alone and afraid. I just do not understand what has happened. I just do not know what to do about it. I just feel small World, so small. I look up, trying to force myself to think, trying to clear my mind, but all of a sudden I have to leap to my feet again, because the boys are coming outside now.
Egged on by Leon, whose eyes seem to be gleaming with excitement, Joe and Travis’s fight spills out into the garden. I stand back, shaking my head from side to side in shock. I can only assume that Hogan or Fiona have ordered them outside, for fear of their new home getting trashed any further. This is disgusting. Both of them are bleeding. I have had enough, so I run off to get Mick. Fuck it.
It’s either Mick or the police, I tell myself as I run. Mick, or the police? Mick or the police. What would Joe prefer? Surely his stepfather’s wrath would be preferable to getting arrested? What the hell is Leon thinking? I keep running. I am surprised I don’t trip over my own feet and go sprawling into the concrete, but somehow I keep going. I reach Joe’s house and hammer upon the door. I have no idea what time it is, but it only takes a few moments for Mick to open up.
“It’s Joe and Travis,” I tell him breathlessly. “They’re killing each other!”
“Jesus,” Mick grunts, and follows me out. I start running back, and he soon overtakes me, rolling up his shirtsleeves as he goes. I have no time to wonder if I have done the right thing or not, but I can see they are still fighting as we turn into Wick Lane. I can hardly breathe, I have run so much. I give up, and stand back and watch, as Mick wades in and breaks their fight up the same way I have seen him do it a hundred times before. He grabs each boy by the back of his shirt collar, yanks them apart, and then thrusts them back together again so that their heads clash in the middle. Next thing I know, he has them both on their feet, and is marching them home, holding one on each side of him. They both look stunned and exhausted, shoulders hunched, holding onto their heads. I remember that I had always thought getting your heads banged together was just a threat your parents used, I can remember mine saying it to me and Sara enough times. Just like, I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap. Threats are realities in Joe’s family. The amount of fights Mick has had to break up, I am amazed none of them have brain damage.
It takes Leon a while to decide to go after them. I watch him chatting casually to Hogan, laughing even, as they shake hands and he makes some comment about a party not being a party without a fight, and then he throws down his fag end, and follows his family. As he passes me, he gives me the briefest of looks.
“Are you okay?” asks a gentle voice at my shoulder. It is Marianne.
“Not really,” I tell her honestly. “I’m gonna’ piss myself in a minute. Can we go?”
“I think we better.”
“What happened to Josh and Ryan?”
“Got sick and went home. Joe was saying goodbye to them at the door, when he saw you and Travis.”
I look at her quickly. “Don’t,” I warn her gravely. “Just don’t.”
“Okay,” she nods. “It’s okay.”
We stagger back to her house, linking arms and weaving from side to side on the pavement as we go. At her house, I finally get to use the toilet and then we go to her room and climb silently into her double bed. She leaves her curtains wide open, and the bed is draped in moonlight. I just lie there on my back, breathing slowly, my eyes closed tightly, trying not to be sick.
“I am loving this summer already,” Marianne tells me enthusiastically, curled on her side next to me. She has removed her silver cardigan and is lying with her arms wrapped around herself, and her knees drawn up to her chest. Even in the moonlight I can see the scores of white marks on her thin arms. It makes me feel so sad and I can’t even explain why. “It’s hardly even started,” she says, as if to make her point. “Isn’t that weird? Feels like so much has happened already since the exams.”
“Like another lifetime ago,” I say softly, echoing her own thoughts. I think to myself, that is one of those phrases that gets thrown around a lot, but now I can understand why. Sitting bowed over the exam papers in the hot, stuffy sports hall at our school, sucking the top of my pen and trying not to cough, does seem like a lifetime ago. It really does.
“Do you think you’ll do well enough to get into sixth form?”
“I don’t know. I think so. I suppose I hope so.”
“What do you mean, you suppose you hope so?” Marianne asks with a little giggle. I wonder how much she has had to drink. She certainly seems more relaxed and less uptight than usual. “What does that mean?”
“I just mean, going to sixth form, and all that, it’s not like it makes me feel really excited or anything.”
“You are funny Lou.”
“But it doesn’t. I’m not really that arsed if I get in or not.” This is true World. I just haven’t spoken about it to anyone before. “My parents would be annoyed, I suppose, if I didn’t get in. They’d harp on about me getting a job instead.”
“Yeah, and that would be a pain,” Marianne yawns. “I’d much rather go back to school and muck about for two more years.”
“I don’t understand how they all expect us to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives, at our age.” I stare at the ceiling, not at Marianne, as I speak. I am relieved that we are talking about something else other than Joe, and Travis. I had fully expected her to go into total meltdown about the whole thing, seeing as how she seems to find it all so fascinating. But now I feel a surge of words and thoughts crowding and pushing behind my tongue and inside my head. I am vocalising my thoughts as they come, and so I keep my eyes on the ceiling, and it is almost like I am totally alone in the giant bed, almost like I am writing on my wall. “It’s bollocks and it’s annoying. From about the age of twelve or thirteen for Christ’s sake, whenever we had to pick our options for GCSE’s. All those visits to the careers office. Work experience, all that pointless shit. How the hell does anyone know what they want to do at that age? I just want to be left alone, that’s all. You know the truth is, the truth is, none of it appeals to me. None of the career options, none of the crap that comes up on the computer, none of it. I don’t want to do any of it. It’s become like this fucking mantra, this fucking chant that they all repeat endlessly, again and again, what do you want to do? What do you want to do? I just want to scream at them, actually I don’t want to do fucking anything, I just want to be left alone!”
Marianne is shaking with laughter beside me. “But what do you want to do?” she asks, pressing her small hands to her mouth.
“Ahh, see? Don’t you get tired of it? I don’t want to do any of those shitty jobs. I don’t want to work in a fucking supermarket or corner shop, or clean toilets, or wait tables, or pull pints, or cut fucking old ladies hair, or mend cars, or look after children, or deliver pizza, or anything!”
“Lou, you wouldn’t be doing jobs like that.”
“Why wouldn’t I? Every grown up I know has a job like that.”
Marianne is quiet for a moment, and I can tell she is thinking about this. Then she sort of nestles her head into her pillow, and smiles sleepily at me. “Lou, you are too clever for jobs like that.”
“Being clever has nothing to do with it,” I correct her sharply. “Are you saying that all the people I know who have jobs like that are fucking stupid?”
“No, course not, not all of them, but..”
“Well they’re not. That’s just all there is. Boring, mind-numbing jobs. Getting up in the morning is hard enough, is it not? Without the joyless knowledge that the reason you are getting up is to go and stack some fucking beans in the supermarket?”
“Lou, calm down. There must be something you want to do.”
I stare at the ceiling again. I don’t want to tell her what the only thing that remotely appeals to me is, because she would probably laugh, just like everyone else has. Because the only thing I can think of, the only thing in the world I can plausibly imagine me hauling my lazy arse out of bed for, once all this education we’re so keen on is done and dusted, is something to do with dogs. You know, looking after dogs. Walking them and stuff. Just feeding them, and caring for them. Something like that. Maybe.
There is a silence that lasts so long I am sure Marianne has drifted off. I feel pretty close to it myself, but then she shifts and yawns again into her pillow.
“They were fighting over you,” she says, and I can feel her watching me. I shake my head.
“Don’t be silly.”
“They were. What happened with you and Travis?”
I don’t know how to explain it to her, because I don’t know myself what happened. “Nothing,” I say instead. “Joe got the wrong idea. Or there’s something else going on between them, I don’t know.”
“Why do you find it so hard to believe they would be fighting over you?”
“Because they weren’t Marianne,” I open my eyes and tell her. “There’s more going on, isn’t there? Stuff Joe hasn’t even told me.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“Anyway, Travis was drunk. And probably taking the piss out of me.”
I watch Marianne smiling ecstatically, as she rolls onto her back and stares gleefully at the ceiling. “Okay, think that if you want,” she grins. “But wasn’t that amazing? The way that man just strode in and separated them like that? Like they were animals.”
“I had to get him,” I say, closing my eyes again, and feeling wretched. “He’s a prick, but I had to get him. No one was stopping them.”
“You did the right thing,” yawns Marianne beside me. “Christ, what a party. I suppose we should have expected it really?”
I don’t answer her. I want her to think that I have fallen asleep. I stay quiet and still until I hear her start to breathe softly in sleep. Then I open my eyes, and stare around at the moonlit room. Marianne was right. We should have expected it, and we should have stayed away. I think about Joe, and I hope that he is okay, and I think about Travis, and my body shivers involuntarily from head to toe. My stomach feels so empty and hollow that I run my hands down over it, and find it is concave. Just one small thing to smile about then.
I wake up feeling really light-headed. Really weird. When I push back the duvet and lower my feet to the floor, I can feel all the blood rushing to my head, and the room swings and shifts, and I have to close my eyes quickly and cover my face with my hands. I want to go home, but I feel strangely like I won’t make it. I nudge Marianne awake. “Any chance of a strong coffee?”
“Sounds like a plan,” she agrees, with a yawn, and climbs out the other side of the bed. I watch her cross the room and pull her dressing gown down from the hook on the door. She pulls it around her clothes from last night and ties the belt, and then she shuffles slowly out of the door.
It’s not nice being alone then, because it all comes rushing back. The party. Travis. Joe. The fight. I feel genuinely sick to my stomach. I wonder how much my best friend hates me right now. I wonder when, or if I will ever have the guts to phone him, or go around to call for him. Not today, that is for certain.
Marianne returns with a carefully laid out tray. She has made us both a coffee and there is a choice of marmite toast, or cinnamon bagels for breakfast. I look at both, and my stomach growls in protest. I am aware of the little spiteful voice that warns me to not to take anything, except the coffee. One bite, it warns, just one bite and that is it. You’ll eat the lot, you know you will. But the other voice, the sane one, that wants my legs to be able to carry me home to my own dear bed, tells me to fucking eat something, so I do. I eat most of one of the bagels, and wash it down with strong, sugary coffee. The effects are almost immediate. My head feels clearer and less fuzzy, and I feel like I can trust my legs to hold my weight, and take me home. I thank Marianne for the food and the bed, and head for the door.
“Are you going to call Joe?” her little voice asks me, before I can leave. I look back at her and a massive sigh escapes me.
“I don’t know,” I tell her, and this is true. I really don’t know.
I walk slowly, wearily home, craving my nice comfy bed, my squishy pillow, some soft music, and my pen in my hand. I crave being alone. Letting whatever wants to spin through my mind just go right ahead. I am sure I will feel a thousand times better once I have slept properly, and just been alone for a while.
But when I get to my house, a chaotic scene greets me. I just stand on the front grass and try to take it all in. My sister is lugging a suitcase across the garden. Her boyfriend Rich is starting up the engine of his battered mini cooper. My mum is weeping on the doorstep, and Hitler’s long-lost son is standing with his arm around her waist. I am struck dumb by it all. I just stand there with my arms hanging down at my sides, and my mouth lolling open, and my eyes shooting helplessly from my raging sister, as she huffs and puffs and hurls her case into the tiny boot of the mini, and my mum and Hitler’s spawn on the doorstep. I don’t think I can realistically be expected to cope with this at my age.
My sister is either too angry or too selfish to even stop and say anything to me, and to be honest this is probably for the best, because what exactly can either of us say? She just jumps into the car, slams the door, sobs melodramatically and then Rich drives off with her. Just like that. I look around at the street where we live, wondering how many neighbours are watching us. I raise my eyes just enough to see my mum take a step towards me, and I think oh no, oh no you fucking don’t, because I know I can’t let her, I can’t let either of them speak to me, or look at me, or touch me, or even acknowledge I exist, because all I want, all I need is my own fucking bed.
I put my head down like a bull, and charge through them and past them. They might be speaking, but I cover my ears with my hands and thunder up the stairs away from their bleating. Inside my room I close and lock the door and turn and stare at the emptiness my sister has left behind for me, and think whoa, this is all mine then. I gulp back tears and go to my bed. I don’t want to think about any of this fucking shit. I put on Bob Dylan, they all take the piss about Bob Dylan, but they can all go and die, because I’ve liked him since I was twelve, and I’m pretty fucking proud of that actually. I put him on and crawl under my duvet and pull it right over my head, to block out the sound of my mother knocking and tapping up and down the blasted door. I lie there and screw up my eyes, trying to create the perfect blackness to disappear into. I want to take my fist and plunge it into my stomach. I want to feel some physical pain to blot out all this crap. I can totally understand why Marianne does what she does to herself. Fuck it.
What is wrong with these people?
I lie in my bed, under my duvet, and the tapping at my door comes and goes. I think I drift in and out of sleep, but I can’t be sure. I try not to think about Joe, or Travis, or mum, or Sara, or anything. I don’t want to see anything, or hear anything, but I realise I am not going to be able to keep this up for long.
“I’m not going to go away, you know,” my mother tells me on perhaps her sixth or seventh trip up the stairs. “There is a lot we need to talk about young lady. Starting with where you and your friends actually went last night!”
Ha, she sounds cross! At me! Bloody hell, she’s got a nerve. I throw back the duvet and my feet hit the floor with a thud. I open the door, and she is stood there with a fucking tray. She has made me tea and toast. Bless her heart. I take the mug of tea and go to close the door, but she deftly sticks her slippered foot in the way.
“You should be at work,” I tell her. She works in the 99p shop in town.
“Day off actually,” she says, jerking her head towards the stairs, as if this is adequate enough to explain why. I am assuming she means Les.
“Right,” I sigh, “well look I don’t want to talk about any of that. You can do what you like. So can Sara. So can dad. None of it is anything to do with me.”
“But Lou, I just want you to know that…”
“No,” I hold up a hand and stop her. “I don’t want to hear it. Nothing to do with me. You want to talk about the party we went to?”
Mum frowns at me, attempting to look stern. “Yes, actually. Lorraine is downstairs as we speak.”
“Yes. She said you called Mick to break up a fight between the boys last night, and you were all at a party, drinking!” Her frown deepens at me. “You told me you were sleeping at Marianne’s. I don’t like being lied to by my own daughter.”
“I did sleep at Marianne’s.”
“Okay, okay, sorry. Look, tell Lorraine Leon and Travis asked us to go to that party.” I have decided to drop them right in it, why the hell not?
“Oh did they now?”
“Yes, and they gave us loads to drink. Like loads. Totally free. Then they had a fight because they were all drunk.”
“Oh my,” my mother clicks her tongue and taps her slipper up and down. “Well I better go and talk to her then. But really, you should have known better! People can’t force you to drink you know!”
“No,” I agree, with a loose shrug. “But they can make it seem pretty attractive, can’t they?” I close the door on her. I smirk as I head back to my bed with the mug of tea. I wish I could be a fly on the wall now, and listen to her give it to Lorraine. I bet she’s trying to blame it all on me.
If I had my way I would stay in my room all day, and creep out at night to make myself some tea and toast, and use the toilet. My phone is dead so I plug it in and sit and fear what text messages will or won’t come through from Joe. I keep thinking about this Les bloke, someone I barely know, down there in my house. Probably with his feet up on the coffee table, watching TV in my lounge. I have only met him a handful of times, and most of those have been brief and awkward. I don’t know what I am supposed to say to him. I don’t even want to have to look at him. I just sit on my bed and seethe. It is only the thought of Joe, and how much he must hate me, that drives me from my pit of despair. I don’t want Lorraine to leave without telling me if he is okay. So I creep down the stairs when I hear her loud cackling voice in the hallway. She immediately stops laughing and talking and regards me very seriously, as if she is my mother as well, for God’s sake. She has her handbag on her shoulder, and is on the way out. Mum is behind her, and just at the back I can see Les. He looks sheepish all right. I peer at him briefly, wondering if my original assertions of him looking like Hitler were correct. He is taller than mum, but not big built or stocky, like Mick. He looks sort of weedy and nerdy to me, to be honest. His hair is thin and too long and flops around his face. He flips it about, from one side to the other, and you really just want to scream at him, fucking get it cut, it makes you look like Hitler! And as for the thin little moustache…oh dear Christ. How can I converse with someone like that?
“Finally showing your face, eh?” smirks Lorraine, her bright red lips pouting at me menacingly. I hold onto the handrail and tighten my grip.
“Is Joe okay?” I ask her, because that is all I care about. She raises her tiny little over plucked eyebrows at the question.
“Apart from having a monster hangover and being grounded, yes he’s okay thank you. What did you all think you were doing?”
“Travis invited us,” I shrug at her, just in case mum has neglected to tell her.
“I know, your mum said, and I’m on my way home to have words with him and Leon, I can assure you of that. But you and Joe are normally so sensible. It’s not like you to behave like this!”
“It was all free drink,” I tell her, again, just in case mum has not. Lorraine swaps a weary ‘kids eh?’ kind of look with my mum, who sighs and shakes her head.
“You should know better,” Lorraine repeats, wagging a finger.
“Can Joe come over here please?”
“No darling, he’s grounded.”
“For how long? Well I can come over there then?” I’m not sure, now that I’ve said it, if I am really brave enough to do this, but the alternative is staying in my room forever, or starting the tedious process of getting to know Les. Lorraine and my mum swap looks again. “Please,” I beg, coming down a few more stairs. “We’ll do something to make it up to you.” I know I’m onto something now, because Lorraine lifts those minuscule eyebrows again and smiles slightly. “Babysitting, tidying up, walk the dog…” I reel off a few possible ideas.
“Well I don’t mind if you don’t mind Lol,” Mum says to Lorraine. I expect she is thinking it will be good to have time alone with Les. They’ve had a traumatic first morning as a co-habiting couple. “She’s just worried about your Joe. You know what they are like. Like sister and brother, eh?” I don’t give Lorraine a chance to think it over.
“I’ll just get changed, wait for me,” I tell her, and thump back up the stairs.